Mark Waid's new online publishing imprint Thrillbent debuted this week with the title "Insufferable," after teasing readers in March with the "Luther" one-shot. "Insufferable" reunites Waid with his "Irredeemable" partner Peter Krause. As an opening first installment, "Insufferable" hits all the right notes; it plunges you into its world and gives you just enough of a tease to make you want to read more.
The general conceit behind "Insufferable" feels straightforward for now; we watch an older hero (Nocturnus) try to save a young girl from a madman holding her captive, even as all attention is on the young jerk of a hero (Galahad). Waid shows us how both Nocturnus and Galahad operate and Waid uses cultural notes (the existence of a "CQ" magazine presumably aimed at the costumed/superhero figures, plus Galahad's presence on the cover) to help us understand their prominence in the world of "Insufferable." In short, it's just the right kind of introduction; we hit the ground running, get an entire encounter in the very first chapter, and have a strong enough grasp to want to read more.
If helps that the characters themselves are interesting, at least for now. Over time Galahad's nature could become a bit overwhelming (Thrillbent.com refers to him as "an arrogant, ungrateful douchebag") but for now he's just enough of a secondary character to Nocturnus that one doesn't mind. Nocturnus himself feels to be in the general Batman mold of a slightly gruff, no-nonsense sort of hero and it's that familiarity that makes it easy to warm to him.
Krause's art looks good here, too. These days it reminds me of artists like Alan Davis and Bryan Hitch, with a rounded and fleshed out set of figures, but with a slightly rougher ink line for a jagged edge. It's a good look, one that's easy to follow and is attractive. Krause's character designs for Galahad and Nocturnus are good too; Galahad reminds me almost of a NASCAR racer with his white and orange logoed jumpsuit, while Nocturnus is in much more in the stealth vein of outfit, built for function rather than flash.
Like "Luther," "Insufferable" tries to create some transitions that function solely in an electronic format, rather than print. Waid and Krause have some pages build, so a click brings an extra panel onto the screen, or has one drop out. It's not used that often -- it only happens on what will become three pages in the eventual print edition -- but here it feels like a crutch rather than a tool. Krause's storytelling is strong enough that I don't think readers need the additional cues on when to pause, or how the story is building on those pages to indicate the passing of time. I don't mind the idea of Waid and Krause using the conceit of being able to control the pauses in the process of their comics, but rather just wish that it was saved for moments when it would have a greater impact. Here it feels almost like we get these moments (especially on the second and third "pages" that it occurs) to introduce the idea to readers, rather than because it adds an extra layer of storytelling.
The interface for "Insufferable" #1 is incredibly easy to use; mouse clicks on the computer shift you from one image to the next, and on a phone or tablet you can either touch the edges of the image or give a swipe to flip you to the next screen. I was a little surprised to see that "Insufferable" is slightly too tall to fit on an iPad screen in landscape mode (if viewed in a web browser, at any rate); perhaps if viewed inside an upcoming app it will fit a little better, although you can always just read the comic in portrait mode with no problems. Also (at least for now) you can't download and then read the comic without a net connection. Again, hopefully that will be a limitation that goes away down the line.
Small hiccups aside (and mostly through implementation quibbles that could be adjusted with time), "Insufferable" #1 is a good opening chapter. It has just the right length and detail to hook the reader, without giving everything away in its first outing. And for now, at least, "Insufferable" #1 is free on Thrillbent.com, so you can always look at it for yourself and decide if you want to read more. For now, though, I'll consider myself hooked.